For almost a generation there has been a desire by the local design community for some kind of academic center relating to architecture and design in Baltimore. In the summer of 2008, coinciding with the Station North Vision Plan, a group of designers, artists, architects, and others finally came together to take seriously this decades-long effort to move design forward in Baltimore as a core concern.
The first Design Conversation, Making Sustainability Visible, was held in September 2008. In 2009, the series received a $2,000 “confetti grant” from the Baltimore Community Foundation for making “a significant contribution to Baltimore’s vibrant arts and cultural scene in 2009.”
The group incorporated in 2010, voting in its first board of directors, and was approved as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2011. That same year, D center was located at 218 West Saratoga Street under a grant from the Downtown Partnership that funded temporary installations in vacant storefronts. In the Saratoga Street space, D center hosted five exhibitions and related programming as well as standalone events -- among them the 2011 Urbanite Project, an international design competition focused on mitigating the impact of constructing the Red Line. The competition featured an all-star jury and received submissions from the United States, Italy, Israel, Canada, and elsewhere. D center also collaborated with numerous partners to put on events in the space, including the Creative Alliance’s Art to Dine For series, the Transmodern Festival, and Wide Angle Youth Media. D center also formed partnerships with area colleges and universities, who used D center’s exhibition and meeting space to conduct classes and hold design reviews.
In 2012 D center participated in a City and Station North Arts & Entertainment District application for an “Our Town” grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The application was successful, and grant funds allowed D center to locate in the old North Avenue Market building for two years. In the new space on North Avenue, the first exhibition was Westing, organized by the Institute of Contemporary Art Baltimore, a new roving institution founded in 2011 focused on identifying artists in the mid-Atlantic region for career-spanning exhibitions of their work. Other exhibits include the Baltimore Modernism Project, which showed renderings from the archives of the Baltimore Architecture Foundation; Baltimore from Many Perspectives, an exhibit organized by independent curator Sarah McCann that featured work by nine interconnected artists in collaboration with two dancers and young artists and dancers from ConneXions School for the Arts; and Funaday Art Thing, a traveling show of work by artists from more than 20 cities that was organized by the Artclash Collective, a Philadelphia-based group of artists who organize art projects and shows that aim to be fun, inclusive and participatory. Several members of D center's board also curated House Show, an exhibit centered on the Baltimore rowhouse, at Case[werks] Gallery.
D center was honored to receive a Downtown Baltimore Award from the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore in 2012. A new website was launched in 2013, and in March of that year D center celebrated the 50th Design Conversation. The nonprofit continues to work to support and galvanize the local design community, organizing events and exhibits in its gallery space at 12 West North Avenue and holding its monthly Design Conversations at the Windup Space, also located in the old North Avenue Market.